In the face of rapidly rising electricity prices (where the wholesale price has doubled over the last few years since the carbon tax was axed) – there’s a desperate need for a solution Australia wide – and the brand new $660m Nowingi solar and battery storage plant, whilst being far from a panacea, is certainly a step in the right direction. Built by the Lyon Group who are also responsible for a proposed $1b solar battery farm in South Australia to be finished by the end of the year, this plant, built by private investment, looks like it will be an iconoclastic undertaking – read on to learn why.
The Nowingi Solar + Storage Project
According to Lyon partner David Green (Lyon are a private equity firm backed by Mitsubishi of Japan and the Unite States hedge fund Magnetar Capital) to the Australian Financial Review, the project is one one of three which amount to almost $2 billion in investment (AUD). These three projects will be offered to utilities, retailers and end users by using a ‘world-first’ tender model. Green took a swipe at the bumbling government and their inept policies of the last 10 years and said “These things are happening despite governments, not because of them,” Mr Green said. “The private demand for renewable energy can’t be denied.”. They’ll initially be 100% financed by equity to facilitate rapid development, but at some point they will likely be refinanced with some debt capital (Green noted that one of Australia’s ‘big four’ banks approached them voicing interest). Lyon told the AFR that “We are seeing a really significant shift in sentiment in private sector capital.”
As of next week the Lyon Group will seek expressions of interest from market participants (generators, network owners, and energy users) for contracts and other services which will be able to use the 60Mwh of storage capacity the three projects, located in Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria, will create. The 250MW Nowingi Solar Farm (Nowingi is around 50km south of Mildura) is going to use 2.3 million panels to deliver power and also charge an 80MW (160Mwh) battery – and users will be able to bid for access to storage at the facility where in other circumstances they may have to buy at a much higher rate on the spot market. That is to say they’ll bid before (i.e. energy price arbitrage) the inevitable power shortages / heat waves / high price times – thus protecting themselves from the extremely volatile wholesale price (a very powerful proposition for businesses, network owners and utility companies alike – anyone whose business relies on using high amounts of energy).
Despite (perhaps as a result of?) Canberra’s weak and ineffectual policy, private capital is coming to solar energy in a big way – just yesterday we discussed this on a smaller scale with Complete Office Supplies’ private solar investment – and last week we had a look at Eco Energy World’s solar projects and their intent to offer energy directly on the spot market without signing a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA) with any utility groups. This plant is the natural progression of such offerings – and it’s great to see private companies stand up and offer solutions, rather than pandering.